Islamist militants are operating in the Nordic countries, exploiting their open, liberal societies, and will sooner or later launch an attack in Scandinavia, Norway’s domestic spy chief told Reuters.
Al-Qaida named Norway as a potential target, alongside the United States, Britain, Australia and other countries, in 2003.
“It’s only a matter of time before we have a terrorist attack in Scandinavia; in Norway or Denmark or Sweden,” said Joern Holme, head of the Police Security Service (PST), Norway’s equivalent to Britain’s domestic intelligence service MI5.
Norway, the world’s third largest oil exporter, is a member of NATO and has troops and fighter jets in Afghanistan but did not back the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. In 1993 Norway brokered a peace deal between the Palestinians and Israel.
Extremists have previously planted members in Norway to help plan bomb attacks in Europe, Holme said during an interview at the PST’s headquarters in Oslo.
And since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States Europe’s security services have foiled around 35 bomb attacks, he said.
“The high number and the bombs in London illustrate how serious the terrorist threat in our part of the world, and our part of Europe, is,” Holme said.
In July four suicide bombers killed 52 commuters in coordinated attacks on London’s public transport network.
The suicide bombers were radicalized British Muslims, a trend that is spreading, Holme, a 46-year-old former public prosecutor, said.
“We have seen lately an increase in the level of recruitment and radicalization and that is a new situation,” he said.
“If our integration policy is not good enough, we will have home-made networks. It is very important that our politicians are aware of this.”
Scandinavia’s reputation for liberalism and equality also attracts Muslim radicals who may view the Nordics as a safe, soft option, he said, adding that this reputation must change.
He described as incredible Norway’s inability to expel an Iraqi Kurdish mullah who has links with extremist groups and whom the government has called a security risk.
An expulsion order against Mullah Krekar, founder of the radical Islamist group Ansar al-Islam, was originally issued in 2003 but he is still in Norway, taking advantage of a law forbidding the expulsion of anyone to a country where they might risk the death penalty.
“We need a more active system for handling these immigrant issues when the government has declared this person is a threat against our country,” Holme said.
“We should be able to say ’goodbye’ without this long process.”
But he stressed that police powers had to strike a balance with Norway’s tradition of human rights.
In August, a law extended police powers to allow them to bug suspects’ homes -- they could already listen into phone conversations -- but Holme said he did not need to extend the current powers of arrest which state a case has to be presented within 24 hours to a judge or the suspect released.
“Its very important that our methods and needs are based around the human rights standards,” he said.